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Book Reviews


A Question and Answer Guide to Astronomy
Authors: Pierre-Yves Bely, Carol Christian, Jean-René Roy

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

ISBN: 978-0-52-11806-65

Price: £18.99 (Pb), 280pp


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This delightful little volume is written as though the authors loved their subject too much to write it as a textbook. While it's aimed at students and those wishing for a well-rounded coverage, it's full of lovely quirky extras, such as that sunspots shine about as bright as the full Moon!

Rather than the dry "What is a star?", it starts with "Why do stars shine?" Other topics include a great deal on the planets, the Earth, the Universe, practical astronomy, history, and awkward questions such as astronomy in the Bible, UFOs, and aliens.

It's translated from French; while the explanations would be clear and sympathetic in any language, some endearing idiosyncrasies creep in: "Imagine a night sky with no stars, blank, black – with at most a small cloudy spot or two, all that can be seen of our closest neighbour galaxies. Sad, no?" (Though once or twice I did think the translator had a bit too tight a deadline!) This may also be why traditional questions do not always get the standard style of answer: the reason why the Moon looks larger nearer the horizon, for example, suddenly made sense to me after reading this book when it never had before.

There are plenty of footnotes, tables, diagrams, and beautiful photographs. The authors have prepared for different levels of knowledge in their audience, though they seem to assume familiarity and ease with equations. But it's a very human book. It has some inside stories, such as exactly what Fred Hoyle said when he coined the term ‘big bang’, and discusses how we can comprehend ‘astronomical’ (i.e. outrageously huge) numbers.

I would recommend this book whether you know a lot or a little: it is full of memorable snippets, clear and satisfying reasoning, and enough facts to keep you entertained for a very long time.

Alice Sheppard

2009 Yearbook
This 132-page special edition features the ultimate observing guide for 2009, a review of all the biggest news stories of 2008, in depth articles covering all aspects of astronomy and space missions for 2009, previews of International Year of Astronomy events and much, much more.
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Infinity Rising
This special publication features the photography of British astro-imager Nik Szymanek and covers a range of photographic methods from basic to advanced. Beautiful pictures of the night sky can be obtained with a simple camera and tripod before tackling more difficult projects, such as guided astrophotography through the telescope and CCD imaging.
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Exploring Mars
Astronomy Now is pleased to announce the publication of Exploring Mars. The very best images of Mars taken by orbiting spacecraft and NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers fill up the 98 glossy pages of this special edition!
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Mars rover poster
This new poster features some of the best pictures from NASA's amazing Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
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